Episode 78: Cover Girl

A terminally ill model arranges her own death with a hitman, then goes to her old friend Hutch for help to get out of it after she goes into remission.

Kate Larrabee: Maud Adams, Walter “Angel” Allen: Calvin Lockhart, James Brady: Allan Miller, Minnie: Marki Bey, Dr. Harriman: Russ Marin, Lindsay: Jerome Guardino, Richards: Bo Byers, Randy: Jeffrey Tambor, Big Ed: Ken Olfson. Written By: Rick Edelstein, Dan Ullman, and Robert Dellinger, Directed By: Rick Edelstein.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

There have been other professional models depicted in this series, most notably Sharman from Season Two’s “Running” as well as the bevy of background girls in “The Groupie” and “Velvet Jungle”. But Maud Adams is the only one who truly looks and acts the part. Models are more striking and strange-looking than merely pretty and Maud Adams more than fills the bill with her height, extraordinary cheekbones and deep blue eyes. To the contemporary viewer she may seem a little too old to be at the zenith of a white-hot career, but fashion’s predilection for emaciated preteens was not as common in the late 70s.

Except for the glossy Knots Landing-esque “high-end” feel to this episode (a common issue with Season Four) this is a very good episode, filled with arresting characters. Of note is Allan Miller’s Brady, with his peanut obsession and his quaking fear-based relationship with Angel. Also good is the sarcastic toy store proprietor played by series regular Sy Kramer, a contemptuous and lonely man in desperate need of a cocktail. The story’s urgency helps propel the episode too, although compared to past ticking-clock episodes (“The Shootout” and “Deck Watch” for example) it feels as if some of the gears are a little rusty.

Hutch’s legendary healthy diet has hit the skids by the time the Fourth Season rolls around. Here, in the charming opening scene in which he solemnly gives legal advice to a kid, he is eating a doughnut and drinking coffee. But one has to ask the question: how does Hutch not know Stuart, the boy on the phone, isn’t another victim of abuse (“Crying Child”) but rather a smart alec who can be safely ignored?

Starsky has dental problems, which is played for laughs and not for the first time. Is it because it’s funnier to watch an unapologetic omnivore like Starsky deprived of his pleasures? However, unlike “Losing Streak”, the joke isn’t explored through the episode; rather, it’s dropped and never shown again. This points to a disconcerting habit in this final season: the introduction of a character or detail without any further elucidation.

Punk rock is mentioned for the first time, signaling a profound change in the cultural life of Bay City. However, this does not seem to have trickled down to the studios of the expressive photographer Randy, who orders an assistant to play energizing music at the shoot but gets flutey Muzak instead.

Kate would rather die than face the prolonged pain of a death from cancer. But why doesn’t she commit suicide? She’s a powerful, decisive woman. She knows what she wants. Her lifestyle and profession puts her in close proximity with any number of drugs which would do the trick. It seems strange to add the extra stress of not knowing when, or how, not to mention the very real possibility of an agonizing nonfatal injury, but let’s assume there is more to Kate than depression. I can come up with three explanations without much trouble, which seems to be beyond the ambitions of the writers and producers, who do very little in the way of reflection or explanation. She might be too squeamish to inflict self-harm, she may worry the stigma attached to suicide may affect her family members or perhaps her own posthumous reputation, or – most interestingly at all, and something I would use if I were writing this episode – she could be seeking to be immortalized in the celebrity canon through the ultimate in victimization.

The Logic Police: a handsome, well-dressed man pushing a baby carriage through the gritty streets of a bad neighborhood – and then abandoning that carriage – is not the best method of assassination. It’s far too showy and weird and prone to error or catastrophic inference by innocent bystanders. Why don’t any passers-by, particularly women, notice him walking away from the pram? Exit Richards and Lindsay from the brownstone, and ka-boom. However, there are logic errors even here: if Lindsay is a witness in a sensitive court case and in fear for his life, why not wait for police backup before walking into the street? Why not use a back-entrance, ducking out of a door and into a waiting police car? Or better yet, why not remove him from this dodgy neighborhood altogether? This series has a habit of showing police officers stowing vulnerable witnesses away in hotels; even Starsky and Hutch themselves hide out in this way (“The Specialist”). I am not overly familiar with law enforcement protocol, but I wonder if this is a fiction invented by writers rather than a genuine procedure. It seems to me the police would more likely keep the witness in his or her own home and protect them from there.

Angel is a classic Rotten Criminal in the series pantheon. He is fashion-conscious, vain and egocentric. He pursues “sophisticated” things (classical music and games of chess) and tosses out pseudo-intellectual statements to intimidate others. “People,” he says. “People never cease to amaze me.” This means he believes he is different, possibly better, than mere “people”. He uses toys in intricately murderous ways, more to amuse himself than for practical reasons. Like Professor Gage from “Class in Crime”, he needlessly complicates situations as a test of his own intelligence, believing he can outsmart everyone. However, unlike earlier episodes in which good and evil collide at a dazzling intersection, Angel never spars with Starsky and Hutch. There is no thrilling showdown, like there is in “Pariah” or “A Coffin for Starsky”. His evil ways are abstracted – one might go so far as to call them lazily proactive – and he never really faces the wrath of a genuine adversary. Therefore, we only get to see a collection of eccentricities rather than a fully-realized Villain. This is not an opportunity the first or second seasons of the series would have let go – you better believe there would be hell to pay, Starsky and Hutch thundering through hallways and up fire-escapes or ploughing the Torino through empty boxes to get to their target. Something has been lost.

Brady the go-between is coolly authoritative with Kate, but with Angel becomes a self-conscious, trembling inferior. Angel tells him, “You can soar like an eagle or self-destruct like some hophead.” He asks which one Brady thinks he is. Brady responds, in probably the most honest answer he has given anyone, “I guess it’s self-destruct.” Right after Brady’s strangely endearing answer, Angel tells Brady he won’t be able to contact him anymore. Is Brady’s answer the reason? Or had Angel decided to cut ties with him before this conversation?

Starsky goes to James Brady and shake him down. He goes alone. This is a significant scene and it should be done as a duo; because it’s a solo it feels strangely unbalanced, even though Starsky employs his wonderful trademark molasses-like menace. (Hutch is, presumably, off “comforting” Kate). It’s odd that Starsky does not ask James where Angel is, how to contact him, or any other details that may be essential in stopping the hit. Brady is the only link to a homicidal bomber who probably has a rap sheet as long as your arm. Instead Starsky issues a threat or two and then he leaves. Is Starsky so sure Brady won’t cooperate that he doesn’t even try? Doesn’t he think bringing him down to the station might shake something loose?

Unusually for someone with her wealth and celebrity status, Kate lives in a typical suburban house on a typical suburban street. She might be staying in her parent’s house except Hutch remarks on her good taste in decorating (hilariously condensed into one-word praise: “plants”) , or is she hiding out in plain sight? Also, where is her manager, her personal assistant, reps from the agency, or any number of people continually buzzing around internationally famous fashion models? I have asked this question a thousand times in other similar situations in which young women in peril are mysteriously alone (Terry in “Starsky’s Lady”, for example, or Emily from “Blindfold”).

Hutch has insisted to Starsky that he and Kate were “just friends.” However when alone with her there seems to be more than friendship in their past. Kate says, “you’re still drinking beer right out of the can?” and Hutch says “oh yeah.” This is in stark contrast to Hutch’s ex-wife Vanessa insisting he drinks “vodka with a splash of tonic.” Of course this proves nothing other than the fact they were good friends, but if Kate knows more about Hutch’s intimate habits than his own wife did it might have been more than that. They are also very warm and flirty with each other, implying a past relationship. Why, then, does Hutch insist it was nothing much when he talks to Starsky? Surely dating a girl who later becomes as famous as Kate is worth bragging about – he’s certainly bragged about less than that. (A small chronological problem arises when Kate mentions she knew Hutch seven years previously which puts him in the police academy or thereabouts, and not back home in the Midwest, but perhaps Kate is misremembering.)

There are some similarities between Kate and Vanessa. Kate mentions drinking beer out of a can in the same amused, slightly disbelieving way Vanessa does when Hutch invites her to a place called The Pits and she says, “you haven’t changed.” This implies Hutch’s determination to be what these women would call “low class” has gone on for some time.

Cultural Connection: Kate has a charming Swedish accent, which means her family immigrated to the United States when she was a girl. Hutch is unusually blond and blue-eyed, and when they drink, he says Skål. Minnesota, where Hutch hails, has a very prominent Swedish population, so we can suppose Hutch is Swedish on his maternal side, unless his father changed his name, as many immigrant families did, in order to fit in (from “Hultgren”, most likely).

Kate tells Hutch, “With death over your left shoulder, everything is important.” How does that work? Some would argue that oncoming death, or a brush with death, would cause one to decide what is important and let the rest go. Or perhaps Kate means that she is no longer ignoring or dismissing the feelings of others. If we read between the lines, we can guess Kate has lapsed into self-absorption or selfishness of the feted, and has forgotten how to listen or care for others.

Hutch tells Kate he finds it hard to understand that she would hire someone to kill her before she dies of natural causes. “I don’t know you can consider death before it comes. Life is all we’ve got, whatever the circumstances.” This is an unusually sincere comment from someone who holds his emotional cards close to the chest, but there seems to be something about Kate that inspires a certain level of candor. She speaks quietly and seems very focused and mature, and despite her irrational decision-making in this instance she does seem like a very likable person. When Kate says she fears life of wheelchairs and bed pans, Hutch then goes on to say one of the most compassionate (and truest) things we ever hear from him: “Do you think people in hospitals, using bed pans, are no less beautiful than you or me?” This is a fascinating and quite touching conversation between two unusually beautiful people, neither of whom seem to find comfort in that aspect of themselves.

On a side note, it is interesting to note Hutch is book-ended by two women from his romantic past wanting something from him and claiming cancer as an excuse for bad or impulsive behavior: his ex-wife Vanessa and now Kate.

Notably, the Mozart sonata Angel likes continues to echo in the background music of his scenes. This is the only time I can think of in which the music is built thematically around a character.

Starsky is lewd and disrespectful to Minnie, although one suspects he will give her full credit for the post office idea, as he is not the selfish type. She is a lot of fun and gets to utter the deathless line “you’re a trashy boy, Starsky.”

Hutch’s happy relationship with Kate is an uneasy echo of three previously “happy” relationships: Jeanie, Gillian, and ballerina Anna. All these take place under artificial circumstances: the woman knows she is in danger, and turns to Hutch to protect her. Hutch is flattered and feels in control. There is a bubble around them keeping the world at bay, Starsky included. In all instances glamour plays a part: the women live beyond the norm, profiting from their natural gifts while battling unseen demons. They see in Hutch a fellow prisoner, the only one capable of understanding the relentless exploitation of beauty. All these relationships have a time pressure. Hutch is called on to be both professional and personal. He does his job and then disengages. If we gaze into the future we can add the destructive Kira into this mix as well (“Starsky Vs. Hutch”), another extraordinarily beautiful woman whose beauty has caused grief for those around her, who Hutch tries to “save” by forcing her into the monogamous relationship she never asked for and doesn’t want, and by creating an artificial barrier between the two of them and the outside world. Kira also emotionally blackmails Hutch in much the same way as the other three women do, however innocent their motives: by engaging his sympathy with their largely self-inflicted plight and by intimating only he can understand their woes (this is being hard on both Gillian and Jeanie, I realize: prostitution is a complex issue and not the fault of its victims, however both these women have been swept into an even more dangerous situation by becoming enmeshed with a criminal empire). Hutch is a deeply sensitive, loyal friend. He often feels insecure and angry at the world. He can feel buffeted about by life, and lashes out at the invisible forces he feels are against him. These woman allow him to feel momentarily valued and powerful, and this is laudable. But lack of insight can turn any gift into a liability, however well-intended.

Angel says, “There are no accidents in my life.” Does that mean he intends, for some reason, to get caught? Is this why he doesn’t immediately drive away from the hotel when he sees he familiar Torino parked there? Is this why he self-destructs “like some hophead”, as he said to Brady in the park earlier?

Why don’t Starsky and Hutch radio ahead and tell Officer Batson to keep Kate from turning on the lights? Either they don’t they trust him to do a good job or they can’t get hold of him. But isn’t there another squad there who can get there sooner than Starsky and Hutch? Did they try calling Kate on the phone?

Remission doesn’t always last forever. Supposing Kate suffers a recurrence of her cancer. Do you suppose she will again seek an early exit, or will she decide to keep going, no matter what? And what is this episode’s moral take on the subject? Hutch argues for the continuation of life, no matter how terrible the suffering, but isn’t this an easy stance to take when you have not walked a mile in someone else’s shoes?

Tag: it’s great when Hutch mentions Randolph the Great, Starsky says “I bet” and Hutch laughs. It’s a laugh of pure relief and hints at Hutch’s happiness at being in the presence of the one person who does not want anything from him. (Which, I think, might be the secret ingredient to the success of their relationship.) Despite the fun of the shoot, one wonders at the problematic situation arising if these photos were ever to fall into the hands of a vengeful crime boss or an easily-irritated LAPD Internal Affairs officer.

Clothing notes: Hutch wears his extraordinary tusk necklace, we glimpse his treasured green t-shirt. Starsky wears a snappy jacket and slacks to the dentist, which is a bit strange. Both are dressier than normal. From the looseness of Hutch’s shirts, we suspect a back brace is still being worn.

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10 Responses to “Episode 78: Cover Girl”

  1. Lynn Says:

    Merle,
    once again a great analysis. I too was touched by the comment about beauty exchanged between two beautiful people. I wonder if this was revealing more of Soul than Hutch. It’s pleasant to think that he had these views, but in the course of the series he never dated any girl who even came close to be called “average” looking. In viewing the series now there is a treatment of women throughout that is demeaning and shallow, demonstrated by both S&H. I know it was the ’70’s, but one would have hoped that in their conflicts for better scripts and autonomy for themselves they would have lobbied for the better treatment of women as well.
    Lynn

    • merltheearl Says:

      Lynn, I completely agree with you. The script is being generous to Hutch, who has been cruelly dismissive of women he feels are “below” him throughout the course of the series (I’m thinking of poor Fifi, especially, whose hysterical devotions are no doubt a joke invented by writers to parody the female fans of the show). Soul gives the lines he speaks an extra gentleness and gravity that is very moving. The series did a lot right in the depiciton of the marginalized – prostitutes, addicts and others – as worthy of respect, as well as sensitive handling of rape, gay rights and other social issues. But the treatment of women, as you rightly say, is generally poor.

    • Anna Says:

      Lynn, this is true, but I don’t think Hutch’s failure to live up to his words necessarily implies he doesn’t mean what he says. Lots of people sincerely believe in high ideals even when they are too flawed to fully live up to them in their personal lives. One of the things I like most about Hutch is that he’s very aware of how imperfect he is but still keeps trying to improve his behavior — sometimes more effectively than other times.

  2. Lynn Says:

    Merle,
    You are dead on again. The treatment of minorities and the disenfranchised was sensitive and at times, well ahead of the way some were dealt with in the ’70’s. Women, on the other hand, were objectified, manhandled, and ridiculed quite regularly. I wonder if it wasn’t some sort of macho over compensation by the writers to dispell the gay rumors. The closeness of the relationship was offset by portraying them to be just as boorish and chauvinistic as any other red blooded American male at the time. I would hope that in hindsight the treatment of women in the series is something the boys aren’t proud of. They did so many other things so well.
    Lynn

    • hutchlover Says:

      Merle, I just found your fabulous & interesting blog. This weekend is actually an S&H convention, and it was shared.

      I’d like to mention that Minnie was never a coroner. GINNIE is the female coroner.

      Can’t wait to read more.

      • merltheearl Says:

        Oh right! GINNY. MINNIE. Gosh,I mixed them up. Thank you for such an excellent catch. I will fix my mistake, and thank you for joining in the discussion.

  3. June Says:

    Oh yes, the irritating time line mistakes rears it’s head again. I wonder if they (producers etc) thought the viewers wouldn’t notice or were inattentive or just held us in disregard? I don’t understand their need to tell us how many years this and how long ago that. In episodes like this one, why wasn’t it simply stated that Hutch knew Kate from “back home” or “she was a Duluth girl who made it big”? In the Pilot, the partners had been trolling the same beat for three years and by now, this makes seven. Plus, they knew each other “in the Academy”, so they certainly wouldn’t have paired up two probies. The whole knowing each other thing seems more like 10+ years at this point. I hate these sorts of inconsistencies.

  4. King David Says:

    I might make a mention here, in case I forget to somewhere else, that timelines were something they were very hazy with because in those days, TV networks sold their product (series) to overseas networks, and they may not have been broadcast in chronological order; the stories had to stand alone on their own frameworks, for want of a better word. Other countries may have seen S1 in its entirety before S2, but not in filmed order. And the same for S2 et cetera. Some countries may not have bought the whole shebang and it would’ve been disastrous if something or someone was referred to that the overseas audience never got to see.
    Anyway…Cover Girl:

    I just love the little scene in the squad room where Starsky is prodding his poor anaesthetised jaw – he is leaning heavily on Hutch’s right thigh, and it’s just gorgeous.
    Likewise, I love the little exchange between Starsky and Minnie; she has his number and he has hers – and what a deathless line she has! One of the best in the whole canon IMO. And speculate on the fire Starsky would have burning! (All right, so he’s a chauvinist toad who may not actually take her on as a love interest, but the two of them have marvellous flirtatious sparring opportunites.) I really like Minnie. When Starsky replies to Gertrude (“Birds of a Feather”) that Minnie never lies, I believe he is stating the truth, and that he admires the fact.
    Yes, Kate is a beautiful woman, but the premise of her choosing to have herself knocked off at an unknown time is weird! Is it telling us that beautiful women do weird things? That she’s striking but brainless?
    When Starsky helps Hutch up off the grass after the car explosion, he gives Hutch quite a heft up; Glaser assisting Soul? It’s nice to see the contact, as there’s not much to be thankful for in S4.
    And that laughing toy in the toyshop is hideous! It would give the average child nightmares!
    And, how come a seasoned detective wouldn’t have thought of the post office? It’s not rocket science. S&H must’ve moved house a few times (at least once that we know of, canon-chronology notwithstanding).
    Still, the three main characters are here: Starsky, Hutch and the Torino.

  5. Sharon Marie Says:

    There was one hint that their relationship was more than just a friendship. After Kate arranges her demise they cut back to the guys in the squad room. As they pan back from that magazine close-up, Starsky asks, “So what happened between you two?”

    Hutch looks up from the picture and says, “I don’t really know, but it was good while it lasted.” It was faint and I had to listen to it twice, but that’s what was said.

    Hutch is reading The Diary of Anne Frank?? (it’s on his desk)

    When you are about to tell your ex-boyfriend cop that you arranged to have someone murder you because you have cancer and now you need to undo that because you made an oops, don’t you think you’d want to admit to that in private? As in a small room with closed doors and not the populated squad room?

    Watching David Soul sit down in his desk chair made me cringe. Being 2 years out of a broken back I know the technique well: Bend, aim butt over seat, palm down on desk or table top and put weight on hand as you sit to ease pain in lower back.

    Oh, hello Mr. Boom Mic in the frame (as Starsky enters Brady’s office)

    Hutch: “My doohickie here got jammed.”

    Starsky: “I’m sure it did.”

    Touche!

    That’s a cute scene in the bathroom as Kate is brushing her teeth, but the editing is horrible. From the back, we see her wrap her arms back to him and Hutch playfully takes her toothbrush and brushes her teeth for her. From the side shot he simply has his arms around her and she is brushing her own teeth. These things bug me.

    As they come out of her house – she gets in the black and white, S & H get in the Torino. Starsky obviously stops to looks around carefully. Apparently not too carefully since he doesn’t notice the postal worker across the street staring at them like an anemic vampire during a full freaking moon!!

    I guess one good unaware dude deserves another, because the assassin dressed as a postal worker clearly saw the white striped Torino that S & H got in and he knows they’re cops. Later meanwhile, back at the flea bag hotel he is staying in, he totally doesn’t see the same obvious white striped red car sitting there with the 2 cops in it…. in the parking lot about 10 yards across from his door…. and walks right by it. Herp derp.

    I spy the cream colored VW Bug!

    So… when did Hutch start wearing a watch?

  6. Darren Read Says:

    Kate drives a Mercedes which when is blown-up outside her house turns into a Mustang. The exploding lightbulb plot at the end seems very lame, not only was it a good guess on Angel’s part that Kate would have this kind of set-up in her house with identical bulbs but the final explosion didn’t do that much damage certainly not enough to guarantee a fatal outcome.

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